Californians resist Big Oil fracking

July 22, 2013

Big Oil is fracking California, and it does not want anyone to interfere with the damage it does to the environment.

But as part of a nationwide “Summer Heat” campaign of environmental activists pledging to take action against the fossil fuel industry, groups are organising a festival, march and nonviolent direct action at Chevron's oil refinery in Richmond, California, on August 3 to demand environmental justice. Those taking part include, Richmond community groups, the NoKXL Actions Council and other allies.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking”, has been going on in California since the 1950s and is still unregulated. Today, fracking is operating in at least nine counties in California. Mostly confined to the southern counties of Kern, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura, fracking is also taking place in Monterey and Sacramento County.

California Assembly member Richard Bloom said: “Currently, California does not regulate or monitor fracking despite holding the largest oil reserve in the continental United States, the Monterey Shale.”

Touted as “California's sleeping giant” and “the next oil boom”, the Monterey Shale is a huge geologic formation beneath about 4500 square kilometres of central and southern California, stretching from the Los Angeles Basin to Central Valley to the San Francisco Bay Area.

The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) estimated that it contains 15.4 billion barrels of oil or almost two-thirds of the shale oil resources in the US.

What is different today is that fossil fuel corporations, with new fracking techniques and an oil production stimulation practice using highly corrosive acids, are competing to exploit the gigantic Monterey Shale that had been drilled marginally in the past.

After more than half a century of no regulation of fracking in California, Big Oil continues to maximise its profits by experimenting with our planet and pushing the boundaries of climate change.

Thanks to exposes by activists like Josh Fox, director of Gasland Part II and participants in anti-fracking protests nationwide, the environmental and health hazards of fracking are much better known to the public today than they were a few years ago.

The hazards include water competition, toxic leakage, groundwater contamination, water and air pollution, climate change, cancers, and sensory, respiratory and neurological damage. Moreover, recent scientific studies concluded that fracking contributes to earthquakes, both directly and indirectly.

The Monterey Shale is mostly fracked for oil, rather than for natural gas as in the Northeast and Rocky Mountains. That means fracking in California is less likely to result in flammable tap water due to leakage of natural gas or methane.

However, burning oil produces more carbon dioxide than burning natural gas, and widespread fracking in earthquake-prone California will no doubt make communities across the state even more vulnerable.

Drillers of the Monterey Shale are also employing “acid jobs” to stimulate production in oil wells. Acid jobs are “an old well completion method that involves pumping chemicals such as hydrofluoric acid into wells to melt rocks and other impediments to oil flow, and companies are not required to report when they do it”, Reuters said.

Bill Allayaud of the Environmental Working Group told Reuters: “These are super-hazardous, poisonous chemicals, and we have no idea what they are doing out there with it — how deep it is going, the volumes, nothing.

“Why shouldn't our state agency be regulating it as we hope they'll be regulating hydraulic fracturing?”

Since they are used much more widely in the Monterey Shale, acid jobs could be even more detrimental than fracking to communities across the state. It is terrifying that such an injection of rock-melting acids into our environment is totally unregulated.

Furthermore, the oil companies are competing vigorously to maximise profits.

Testifying before the state Natural Resources and Water Committee, environmental consultant Robert Collier, who attended a petroleum conference in Bakersfield at the end of May, described geologists discussing the use of acid-pumping to maximise oil production: “Everybody was trying to experiment with the maximum amount of volume and concentration without corroding the well casing. The oil companies are at the edge of what is known.

“Everybody has their own special sauce, and they're all pushing the boundaries.”

Despite the well-documented environmental and health hazards of fracking and a recent poll indicating that more than 70% of voters in California want a ban or heavy regulations on fracking, a Democratic supermajority in the state legislature, alongside Republicans, have shot down a dozen bills from the environmental lobby that would have regulated fracking.

Big Oil corporations such as Occidental Petroleum, Chevron, Venoco, and ExxonMobil have enjoyed a cozy relationship with their regulatory agency, the Division of Oil, Gas and Geothermal Resources (DOGGR) under the state Department of Conservation for decades.

Last December, DOGGR finally released draft regulations concerning fracking that manage to please the oil and gas industry. By contrast, many environmental organisations criticised the draft rules.

As the East Bay Express reported: “The rules would only require companies to give a 10-day notice to DOGGR before they start fracking. The data a company submits would not be posted on a state website, but on the industry co-sponsored FracFocus website.

“Public notice of the chemicals used would not be required until 60 days after fracking operations have ceased. Neither the state nor the energy company involved would be required to notify the public that their land will be fracked. Companies would be able to avoid disclosure by claiming 'trade secrets'.”

There is a lesson from the experience of the environmental lobby and the overwhelming influence of Big Oil at the state capitol: activists need to take to the streets to stop fracking and acid-pumping as usual.

Politicians from California Governor Jerry Brown to President Barack Obama have sided with the interests of the fossil fuel industry while evading the true solutions to climate change.

Responding to Obama's recently announced plan to address climate change on the Melissa Harris-Perry TV show, Fox put it bluntly: “This plan is advocacy for fracked gas all over the United States and all over the world.

“This is the wrong plan. We need to transfer from coal and gas to renewable energy.”

Fortunately, important environmental coalitions are already forming and evolving to challenge the capitalist order of irrational economic development and environmental destruction. Affected community members, activists, farmers, public health professionals, environmental and consumer groups held a protest in Los Angeles on May 30 urging Brown to ban fracking in California.

The protest also launched Californians Against Fracking, a statewide coalition to ban fracking in California.

[Reprinted from Socialist Worker.]

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